As we have throughout the last several years, WFNY will use the last two weeks of December to discuss the most important stories of the last twelve months. Stay with us as we count down the biggest and most discussed topics of 2016. Our “Best of 2016” rolls on as we start to count down the top 10 stories of the year.
Ohio State’s run to the 2016 College Football Playoff is one the best underdog stories of the year. True, Ohio State started out the season at No. 6 in the AP Poll. Yes, they were the highest ranked Big Ten team and opened the season at 10-1 odds of a national championship. And sure, they win all the time. But when you consider the amount of talent the team lost, the freshmen upon whom they had to rely, and their fantastic win streak after a devastating loss there is no doubt this season was the stuff Hollywood scripts are made of.
As the opening credits roll we see Ohio State squaring up Bowling Green State University. The Buckeyes blew away the Vegas line and school records, smothering the Falcons under a pillow marked “77-0.” BGSU put up little fight and we will all tell the neighbors that they moved to a new town so they don’t start poking around for the body.
Push comes to shove, could you find Tulsa on a map? There’s a chance some of the school’s football players couldn’t either after OSU wrote them a check and won 48-3.
Everyone knew traveling to Norman, Oklahoma to play the Sooners would be a tall order. Ohio State refused to be intimidated; not even a two hour lightning delay could slow down the Buckeyes’ offensive thunder. No. 14 OU was no match, falling 45-24.
Rutgers is, for some reason, a Big Ten team, and Ohio State was forced to play them so the Buckeyes took it easy on the Scarlet Knights, winning 58-0. Michigan was not as kind when they won 72-0.
Indiana has not beaten Ohio State in football since 1988. OSU kept the streak going with a 38-17 victory.
No. 8 Wisconsin wanted nothing more than to beat Ohio State in Madison and party like it was 2010. Even with an overtime period, the Badgers could not get the elusive victory as Ohio State won 30-23. These first six weeks were the “getting to know the team” part of the movie. The team was 6-0, riding high, and most Buckeye fans felt they may not see an opponent of Wisconsin’s caliber until the season’s final week. They did not see Penn State coming.
Beaver Stadium is as hospitable to outsiders as the planet Hoth. One hundred ten thousand rabid, shirtless, white clad (dare I say cultish?) patrons fill the stadium after a relentless day of drinking and crushing buckeyes in their teeth. From the beginning it was clear the Buckeyes were not quite right. The offense looked clunky, and it seemed the Scarlet and Gray were leaving too many points on the field. Still, OSU held a 21-7 lead after three quarters. Penn State managed ten points in under six minutes, but the Buckeyes could pad their lead with a Tyler Durbin field goal. Until Grant Haley blocked and returned it sixty yards for a go-ahead score. This would be the sad part of the movie.
The game against Penn State changed everything. Even after the kick-six, Ohio State still had the ball with a chance to march down the field and win the game with a touchdown. JT Barrett couldn’t quite crest the 50-yard line, the Lions knelt out, students rushed the field, everyone got drunk and burned couches, and a great time was had by all (in white). The upset distorted the Big Ten East and established the stakes for the remaining contending teams. With no room for error, OSU’s best chance is to win out, hope that Michigan wins until November 26, and pray that Penn State stubs their toe against Purdue, Iowa, Indiana, Rutgers, or Michigan State. Hardly a murderer’s row of football prowess outside of 1955. This left the Buckeyes in a unique position for the season’s final five weeks: Not only were they worried about their own opponent, but they also engaged in rabid scoreboard watching to see if juuuust maybe Indiana had what it took to knock out PSU (they didn’t) or see if Michigan was as good as everyone said they were (they weren’t).
The latter was proven late in the season when the Wolverines lost a heartbreaker in Iowa City, dropping a game to the unranked and underwhelming Iowa Hawkeyes. Their 14-13 win gave UM their first loss and threw Buckeye Nation into a tizzy. Was this lowly Iowa team, still hungover from their Rose Bowl drubbing, really going to play spoiler and indirectly keep Ohio State out of the playoff? Possibly. Before the game Michigan looked at times like world beaters who had the stuff to win the conference for the first time since 2004 and reach the playoff semifinal. And Ohio State wanted them to win (for a while)! The strangest part of this season may be how OSU, with conflicted hearts, wanted Michigan to win. So as thousands of black-and-gold clad Iowans claimed the field in jubilation, it meant the Buckeyes were in trouble.
Ohio State did what they could to keep the playoff dream alive. They pinned a surprisingly frisky Northwestern club, throttled tenth ranked Nebraska, humiliated Maryland, and survived a nail biter at Michigan State. I’d call these games the “putting it all together montage.”
Meanwhile, Penn State could not stop winning. It was fair to wonder if their triumph over Ohio State was just a fluke. After all they lost at Pittsburgh in Week 2 and Michigan took their lunch money 49-10 in Week 4. No matter how badly Ohioans wanted Penn State to lose, the Nittanies just refused to slow down. They were looking better every week. After beating the Buckeyes they won five straight games to close out the regular season, knocking off opponents by 38, 27, 14, 39, and 33 points. Head Coach James Franklin’s boys were eager to show how ready they were for the national stage. Naturally it would come down to the final week.
The Game is always the season’s grand finale, but 2016 offered extra implications. If Michigan wins they would win the East and have a chance to play for the Rose Bowl or College Football Playoff. An Ohio State win MIGHT get them the East if Penn State lost and even if PSU won, an 11-1 record might be enough to put OSU into the Top 4. Penn State and Michigan State would play later in the afternoon so Buckeyes could focus on their most hated rival. When Michigan and Ohio State collide the standings and rankings don’t matter too much. All that matters is Scarlet and Gray are objectively better colors than Maize and Blue and some woman named Ann Arbor is a lady of questionable morals and students give not a damn for the entire state of Michigan. Most of the game flummoxed Ohio State fans; the Bucks trailed 10-7 at intermission and 17-7 in the third. The kicking, mostly a strength during the campaign, reared a hideous, disfigured head to the tune of two missed field goals from Tyler Durbin. When the final gun sounded it was tied at 17 which meant we would go to the first overtime game in The Game’s history.
This game truly had everything and could have easily left either side wondering “what if?” Ohio State missed two field goals. Michigan fumbled the ball at the one foot line. UM could have killed clock in the fourth quarter to ice the game. In overtime, the Bucks had the Wolverines dead to rights on a fourth and goal, but gave up the tying score. The drama was exquisite. In the second overtime Michigan kicks a field goal. On their subsequent possession, Ohio State has it fourth and one. Head Coach Urban Meyer makes a decision that may become a major part of his Ohio State legacy: he goes for it. Surprising no one, JT Barrett took the carry and he—depending who you ask—either easily cleared the yard marker for a first down or was so dramatically short it reveals the Illuminati-level conspiracy against Michigan from the referees, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, and possibly high ranking government officials as high as but not limited to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
Either way, the referees awarded Ohio State a first down, and one play later Curtis Samuel runs in a fifteen yard score that will no doubt be immortalized in murals, pictures, and song for the next 150 years in Columbus. In the wake of Ohio State’s 30-27 victory, Columbus sports radio stations were very confident in the team’s chances to make the playoff. Some callers argued that it would be better to have the week off so the fans would not have to drive/fly to three neutral sites in the following month. Such hubris felt uncomfortable at the time, but turned out to be prudent. Penn State beat Sparty that evening, but it ultimately did not matter. Ohio State finished third in the final CFP rankings which means they had qualified for the Playoff.
With Ohio State now in the College Football Playoff, we are reaching the final scenes of the season/movie. By now you may have noticed that Ohio State is not much of an underdog. Their rankings in all three polls have consistently sat between No. 2 and No. 8. Their head coach is one of the best at his profession, and their cache of talent is an endlessly deep roster of playmakers that any mid-major school would kill for. The Bucks are even 3.5-point favorites over Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
Hopefully Buckeye Nation will remember this season as the second national title in three years, but regardless of how it finishes there were more wins over ranked teams, outstanding plays, and fantastic finishes than most teams get in five years. Anything can happen in the playoff, and Ohio State will get their chance on New Year’s Eve; they can write their own Hollywood ending.